Where To Start With | Converge

Ah, Converge. You may or may not have heard of them, but they’re legends—not only because of their creativity and originality but also because of how critical they are to the growth and evolution of metalcore, influencing the likes of Trap Them, Code Orange, Loma Prieta, Touché Amoré and even pop heavyweights the 1975. But what makes them so special?

First of all, Converge have never released a bad album and since their critical and (kind of) commercial breakthrough with 2001’s Jane Doe, all the way up to 2017’s The Dusk In Us, they’ve racked up the sort of consistency that their contemporaries and successors can only dream of. Since their formation in 1990, they have released nine studio albums, three compilations, six EPs and five split releases.

These last 20 years have also seen frontman and visual artist Jacob Bannon co-found Deathwish Inc., one of the most respected and innovative labels in contemporary hardcore punk—and heavy and experimental music overall. Elsewhere, lead guitarist and co-founding member Kurt Ballou has become a prolific and much sought after record producer, working with artists like the aforementioned Code Orange and Trap Them, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Nails, and goth queen Chelsea Wolfe.

More recently, Bannon has released Shadow of Life, the debut album from his death metal supergroup featuring members of the Red Chord, Job for a Cowboy, and Wear Your Wounds (another Bannon side-project). Fittingly produced by Ballou, it is born of a one-time live performance that saw Converge joined by Chelsea Wolfe, Ben Chisholm (Wolfe’s long-time collaborator) and Stephen Brodsky (Cave In, Mutoid Man) to reimagine deep cuts from their back catalogue.

A word of warning, Bannon’s vocals can and have been fairly described as inaccessible. While his lyrics are at times inaccessible, they are no less poetic. Converge are a deeply emotional and purgative band but Bannon’s vocals serve more like a textural, percussive device. Their harsh tone allows you to understand the meaning behind his words rather than helping you to memorise them. It can be off-putting initially, but ultimately the power of his vocals are a key element of the Converge sound.

So, with the preludes out of the way, here’s an overview of the last six Converge albums in reverse order. Each offers a different perspective into the band and how their music has evolved over the years. They’re too weird for hardcore kids, they’re too punk for metalheads, and they’re just too fucking ugly for everybody else.

The Dusk In Us (2017)

The Dusk In Us is Converge’s most accessible album to date, full stop. A testament to how the band have developed and progressed with every new release. Each track has something different about it for new listeners to engage with. Because of this, it’s the best place to start with Converge.

Ballou’s interest in mid-tempo noise rock is met with bassist Nate Newton’s pursuit of slower, moody grooves and Bannon’s decision to incorporate cleaner, clearer vocal delivery here. At times, it’s melodic (‘A Single Tear’), energetic (‘Eye of the Quarrel’), sludgy (‘Under Duress’), and punishing (‘I Can Tell You About Pain’). It’s a diverse, engaging listen but somehow the easiest one to start with. Converge’s variety and diversity are relentless from beginning to end.

All We Love We Leave Behind (2012)

Riffs. Riffs everywhere. This was your narrator’s starting point. It’s very close to The Dusk In Us in terms of accessibility but it reveals more with every listen. Opening relentlessly with a quartet of bangers (‘Aimless Arrow’, ‘Trespasses’, ‘Tender Abuse’, and ‘Sadness Comes Home’), the band incorporate some sludgy (‘Empty on the Inside’), progressive (‘Glacial Pace’), and doomy elements too (‘Coral Blue’).

Perhaps the best summation of the band’s style up to this juncture in their career, All We Love We Leave Behind is brimming with intensity and boasts some of the band’s most impressive performances in terms of power and precision alike. More straightforward and dynamic than much of their early work, highlighting the more melodic side of the band, it makes sense to follow up their most recent album with its predecessor.

Axe To Fall (2009)

A slight departure from their earlier work, Axe To Fall boasts a flashier, more intricate and progressive sound overall. Opening with blistering live favourite ‘Dark Horse’, the album maintains a breakneck speed and intensity until near its midway point on the doom-laden ‘Worms Will Feed/Rats Will Feast’.

The album also boasts guest collaborators on eight of its thirteen tracks, most prominently towards its final moments. ‘Cruel Bloom’ slows the album to wading-through-mud-like pace, morphing from a haunting, piano-led acoustic strum to a colossal crescendo. Closing track ‘Wretched World’ is arguably the most beautiful track Converge have ever committed to tape—ethereal, with cyclical melodies and yearning vocals. Whether burning slowly or at raging speed, Axe To Fall is a captivating album that keeps its listeners guessing.

No Heroes (2006)

No Heroes marks Kurt Ballou’s debut as the band’s chief producer. Here, the band sound more muscular than ever, with production so good it sounds like they’re in your front room. A sort of return to their metallic hardcore roots, No Heroes is hard and fast. Its first handful of songs don’t even reach the 2 minute mark. Album centrepiece ‘Grim Heart/Black Rose’, however, is a nine-minute epic built on monumental riffs and clean vocals.

The direct, straightforward approach to songwriting on this album results in straight-up hardcore bangers, but there is still enough diversity here to keep things fresh. A great album to get familiar with the brute force of Converge’s harsher side.

You Fail Me (2004)

A huge moment for the band, You Fail Me more than delivers on the expectations brought by their decision to sign with semi-major label Epitaph Records, and the critical success of its predecessor, Jane Doe. Tracks like live set mainstay ‘Last Light’ and ‘In Her Shadow’ showcase the band’s developed sense of dynamics, tension building and willingness to lean on tight musical interplay and step away from guttural squawking.

A record of varied vigour, velocity and visions, this was the first display of Converge’s vitality and variety. Experimental tracks are given as much space as brute force, while still retaining the band’s heaviness.

Jane Doe (2001)

There is little to say about this album that hasn’t been said before time and again, but here goes. Jane Doe is a seminal album; a heartfelt reflection on pain, frustration, desperation and despair. Emotionally, it’s raw and wild. You can feel it in every aspect of the music, lyrics, and album artwork. Jane Doe was metallic hardcore growing up.

Their first truly accomplished album, and arguably still their masterpiece. Recounting the disintegration of a romantic relationship, it’s an intoxicating, engrossing record that still amazes to this day. To single out tracks is redundant. While somehow cohesive for all its chaos, the album must be listened to from start to finish.


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